Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Pacing the fastest bus at SPBM 2018

48yr+ Ex-Navy runner: Sir, I will stick with you no matter what. It will be a miracle if I finish in 3:45 today
Runner: My last year was in 4:15, this year I will just run with you to finish
All runners in the bus in chorus, repeat after the pacer: “I am strong”, “I am relaxed”. “I am strong”, “I am relaxed”. “I am strong”, “I am relaxed”.
Frequent shout outs for attendance, reminders for eating, hydration and pace, a story here and Pj there… that’s how the 3:45 bus chugged along.

When my selection to the Asian Championship was confirmed, I wrote to India’s favorite race director, to see if I could pace a 3:45 or 4:00 hour bus for the full marathon at Bengaluru Marathon. His one line email reply came “3:45”

A pacer / pacing bus is widely used in big city marathons to help runners (even elites) to finish within a specific time. So, I had to ensure that I bring home the bus in exactly 3hr:45mins and any runner who wished to finish in this time, had to simply tag along. The pacer is expected to manage the pace variations (due to course, conditions, etc.), motivate his/her bus to finish in time.

After the stadium run, I have cranked up my mileage – running over 150k every week and it was a 155k week leading up to the race day. With a 3:20 personal best timing, a 3:45 is still challenging. I was very nervous as I went about the final week. A trip back from Chennai, a Big Fat wedding in the family – sleep deficit and calorie surplus.
What also happened during that week was, I got my new Garmin Forerunner 935. So, no concerns on tracking pace or other vital stats, I still had to run hard to be in the zone.

The race went on as per plan, clockwork precision, thanks to the Forerunner. I had set up my 935 to a 5:00 to 5:20 min/km pace. There were about 10 of us when we started and spread out about a minute apart by the end of first loop. I deliberately kept a slightly faster pace for the first half, we had banked about 5mins at halfway.
Photos courtesy: SPBM
We did some talking, some goading, some positive reinforcements along the way. The flag and the holding jacket survived without causing too much discomfort. I kept urging the guys to stay with me till about 38k or so. After about 33k, as we go on to MG Road, energy levels of the group started to sap. I used some of our buffer. After about 38k, we could have still pulled off a 3:35ish finish. But I held back to sweep the slower guys in my bus and get them along. I got into the stadium with 3:43 on the clock, with nearly 7 from my bus finishing within a minute or two.

My energy levels were very high, I didn’t once feel the distance or the pace. After the finish, I hunted around for breakfast, loaded with free samples of protein and electrolytes, peeled off the timing tag and headed out for another lap. The 45min delay did more harm than good, and all the food didn’t go down too well. Nevertheless, I managed to complete my quota of another 18k, 60k in 5:47 for me.

The last time I paced in 2016, I had mixed feelings, this time round, it was a definite high.